THEY have to drive from as for as Beitbridge, Chiredzi and Binga to Harare to stand for about three hours. For some they drive for nearly 443, 581 or 713 kilometers and instead of being the active players, defenders or attackers, they are relegated to mere spectators.
Such is the scenario in the country’s parliament.
The Parliament, the third arm of the Government, is deemed to be a very important organ. It makes most if not all the decision concerning the country.
The country’s constitution approved at a referendum in March increased the number of MPs by introducing a quota for women through proportional representation. This move was applauded by gender activists as a huge step in the empowerment of women but it is beginning to show some detrimental effects.
Due to an increase of lawmakers from 210 to 270, it has resulted in scores of MPs following proceedings from the public gallery, outside or standing due to limited seating space in the chamber.
However, the parliament was designed to accommodate no more than 170 lawmakers. This has resulted in a lot of pressure and headaches to say the least to parliament to accommodate the extra 100. The problem has been witnessed in the Lower house of assembly as the Upper house, the Senate, has 100 members but they are not affected by the lack of space as their chamber can accommodate more people.
In a situation where lawmakers have to follow proceedings from the public gallery, it then reduces them to mere spectators or followers yet they are supposed to be participants. In light of this, some lawmakers then attend parliamentary proceedings so that they can get their sitting allowances hence they turn parliament into a cash cow.
Furthermore, analysts say, the status and the dignity which is given to the Parliament is taken away when scores of lawmakers will be standing while debates are taking place.
“Given the dignity of that August house, the seriousness of the business in the house is taken away,” said Dr Lawton Hikwa, a political analyst.
He added: “They must consider making a shift to a conference place as long as it will be conducive, fit the parliamentarians and allow the carrying the parliament business with dignity.
“The Government has since independence indicated that they were going to build a new parliament which was to accommodate more parliamentarians. The project failed to materialise because of lack of funds.”
Analysts say parliamentarians are not restricted to discuss their business at the parliament building only. According to an elementary dictionary, a Parliament is as an assembly that is the highest legislative body of a country yet Parliament house or building is the meeting facility of the Parliament. This shows that a parliament is not defined or explained in relation to the building or where they meet.
Through these definitions, Bulawayo’s large city hall can be temporally a Parliament building or house so it is with a hall in Gweru or Chitungwiza. What matters is not where they will meet but what they will produce in a manner that brings or gives the Parliament dignity. In this case, analysts believe, the parliament is losing its dignity.
Chiefs, even headmen can discuss various issues under a tree in a situation where the meeting place, in many cases, a hall might not be appropriate. With that case, the parliament must indeed relocate and look for a better place than turning a parliament into a laughing stock.
For the past years, parliamentarians have been going to the resort town of Victoria Falls for a pre budget seminar. Therefore, there is no need for parliamentarians to meet at parliament building, which is not accommodating them all, as analyst believe, denigrates the status they have.
Professor Bhekimpilo Sibanda, a journalism lecturer at Nust too agreed that the business in the house in no longer being carried out effectively due to space constraint.
Prof Sibanda was however quick to point out that increasing the number of parliamentarians was not needed, as it is now costing the country thousands of dollars.
“Everybody knows that what is happening in parliament is bad. The fundamental problem is that we do not need those MPs,” he said, “the Zanu-PF Government should now ensure that the proportional representation is of quality not quantity. The number of our parliamentarians is too much as compared to the population of the country.
“When compared to other countries in the region you will realise that we may need about 100 parliamentarians. The issue is that parliament has been turned into a cash cow. If that is not the case, how can lawmakers be sitting at the public gallery when they are supposed take part in the debate,” he said.
The country’s population stands at 13million and its legislature appears to be bigger than usual. For instance, South Africa’s population is said to be 52 million and has 400 legislators, Angola at 18 million people has 220 MPs, Mozambique at 24 million has 250 seats and Ghana at 25 million people has 275 legislators.
Sarcastically, he said, they should create a roster just like what most urban schools are doing.
“They must create a roster where some come in the afternoon or different days because they are too many. Some of them are now taking advantage of that by rushing to occupy the public gallery, as they have nothing to contribute.